The cornerstone of our transcription guidelines here at the Blake Archive is “transcribe what you see,” a maxim that usually helps us work through tricky editorial decisions to result in a version of the text that remains faithful to the shape of the original. What happens, though, when “transcribing what we see” does not have this desired effect, when the transcription is not only difficult to read, but bears little resemblance to the text that it is supposed to represent?
Take this example from The Four Zoas:
Looking at the first line, there appears to be an illegible erasure underneath the words “The Song of the Aged Mother,” which would seem to have been written at the same time as the clearly readable remainder of that line. The whole of the second line has been written over an erasure. This is how we would represent this using our current display:
By transcribing what we see, the first line has been moved over to the right, destroying the original shape of the page by creating an artificial indention, while the second line has been moved even further over. Even worse, neither line retains its spatial relationship with the other words on the page, and creates a transcription that is clunky and difficult to read.
This is only one of many similar situations from The Four Zoas, and as we begin working on more and more of Blake’s manuscripts, these questions will continue to recur. How can we find a solution that is both practical and elegant, but remains faithful to our promise to “transcribe what we see”?